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Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths

Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths

04 Ekim 2012 Perşembe 11:22
Turkish artillery has renewed firing at targets in Syria after shells from across the border on Wednesday killed five Turkish nationals.

Several Syrian troops were killed by Turkish fire, activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Turkey's border town of Akcakale was shelled, apparently by Syrian government forces, on Wednesday, killing a woman and three children.

The UN Security Council is due to meet later to condemn Syria's actions.

Ankara's response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long unrest there.

Turkey also asked the UN Security Council to take "necessary action" to stop Syrian "aggression".

Meanwhile, Nato envoys held an urgent meeting in Brussels at the request of Turkey, who is a member of the military alliance.

The bloc issued a statement saying it "continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law".

The government in Ankara is expected to ask parliament shortly to authorise cross-border military operations in Syria, Turkish media report.

The Turkish armed forces have in the past moved into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who had bases there.

'Abominable attack'

Turkish security officials said Turkey resumed artillery strikes on Syria early on Thursday, targeting the Tall al-Abyad district, some 10km (6 miles) inside the Syrian border.

Analysis

Turkey's shelling of Syrian positions and its calling of an emergency meeting of Nato ambassadors represent a final warning to the authorities in Damascus - a signal that Turkey's patience has worn thin and that President Bashar al-Assad can expect an increasingly robust response if Turkish territory is fired upon again.

Nato gave strong backing to the Ankara government, just as it did back in June when Syrian forces downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet.

But the early signs are that both Ankara and Damascus have no desire for a protracted conflict. Public opinion in Turkey has not sought Turkish intervention in Syria - though this could change with repeated shelling of Turkish soil.

And President Assad already has enough problems. But the incident inevitably fuels the growing fears of a spill-over of the Syrian crisis into a broader regional conflict.

Turkey's territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against Mr Assad began, but Wednesday's incident was the most serious.

In a statement, the office of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement."

Targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar.

"Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security," the statement said.

Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale.

Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: "Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN's Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident.

Mr Ban urged Damascus to respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours, saying the cross-border incident "demonstrated how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours".

Mr Rasmussen told Turkey's foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a Nato spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region "closely and with great concern".

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Mr Rasmussen has repeatedly said that Nato has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border... and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side."

Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.

The BBC's Jim Muir says Syrian government forces are attempting to cut rebel supply routes by winning back the border crossing at Tall al-Abyad which the rebels seized last month.

Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighbouring Syria.

Panic

Turkey's state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor's office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: "There is anger in our community against Syria," adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days.

Wednesday's attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result of violence spilling over the border from Syria into Turkey.

Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria.

In Syria itself as many as 21 members of Syria's elite Republican Guards have been killed in an explosion and firefight in the Qudsaya district of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the BBC.

The activist group also said there were smaller clashes in several locations in Aleppo.

On Wednesday the commercial capital was hit by a series of bomb explosions, killing at least 34 people and wounding dozens more. BBC

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